Thanks to XFINITY from Comcast, Mike Mayock (game analyst for NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football) and Rich Eisen (host of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Kickoff) recently took time out with The XFINITY Sports Guy, Austin Schindel @XFINITYSports, to provide SB Nation readers with an inside look at the upcoming season on NFL Network.
With NFL Network on XFINITY, subscribers can catch the entire expanded 13-game Thursday Night Football schedule featuring division rivals and championship contenders, starting the 2nd week of the season. XFINITY subscribers also receive On Demand recaps of every NFL game, plus 24/7 coverage, expert analysis and more!
The Thursday Night Football schedule begins September 13th featuring the Chicago Bears taking on their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. Check out what Mayock and Eisen had to say about players to watch this coming season and life on NFL Network courtesy of XFINITY, Your Home for the Most Live Sports.
Q: With the increase in games this season to 13, which Thursday Night Football matchup are you looking forward to covering the most this season?
Mayock: “I love the way we’re getting out of the box on September 13. Chicago at Green Bay not only is one of the most traditional games in the history of the league, but it also means an awful lot because it’s a division game and it’s two particularly strong teams. Green Bay obviously coming off a 15-1 season; Chicago was 7-3 when Jay Cutler got hurt. The energy at Lambeau Field is mind-boggling and we have two great teams. To have them kick off our Thursday Night Football season is just a phenomenal draw.”
Q: What did you learn from your first year in the Thursday Night Football broadcast booth?
Mayock: “What I learned is that I always knew that [NFL Network Thursday Night Football play-by-play announcer] Brad Nessler was a great play-by-play announcer because I’ve seen him over the years with different partners; from Todd Blackledge to Gary Danielson to Bob Griese. I’ve always respected Brad Nessler, but I never knew how great a partner he was to have. He sets you up, he makes you look better, he’s a true pro and he’s one of the best play-by-play announcers I’ve ever seen.”
Q: What are a couple behind-the-scenes things at NFL Network that initially surprised you and might surprise the viewers?
Mayock: “One of the things that surprises me about Thursday Night Football is the size of our ‘travel team’ when we go into a city every week. There is just so much involved. You’re talking about a short week of preparation for the NFL teams, but the work that goes in from the network side is mind-boggling. We invade a city, we’ve got all of the bells and whistles; we have more cameras than I’ve ever been involved with. We get great cooperation from the coaches and players on a short week. I love the opportunity to watch practice and meet with the players and coaches. And then it all comes together on game night which is really the cool thing. The energy in a city for a primetime NFL game is mind-boggling.”
Q: What NFL Network programming other than Thursday Night Football do you most look forward to catching each week?
Mayock: “The recent Inside Training Camp Live shows where I had an opportunity to watch Paul Burmeister and the guys whip around to different camps and get a sneak peak around the country. Also the draft-related programming; the Path to the Draft show leading up to the draft is one of my favorite shows to watch and be a part of.”
Q: What is your favorite part of the preseason?
Mayock: “Seeing a late-round draft pick or an unheralded free agent make plays and ultimately make a team. We spend a lot of time on the Peyton Mannings and the Tim Tebows, and for me the preseason is about the team coming together and then some of those great stories where kids make plays and ultimately make a team.”
Q: What has been the highlight of your broadcasting career thus far?
Mayock: “I love doing games much more than studio shows because you can smell the grass, you’re meeting with coaches and players. When the opening kickoff goes in the air, you either know what you’re talking about or you don’t. Nobody can script it, nobody can tell you what to talk about; you either know football or you don’t. The highlights for me have been the Thursday Night games have been phenomenal, and calling the Norte Dame games for NBC have been phenomenal. If I had to pick one game that’s probably my favorite game it would be last Thanksgiving with San Francisco at Baltimore with the two Harbaughs coaching. That was as good a football game as I’ve ever been around and because I know the Harbaugh family a little bit, it made it even more special for me.”
Q: What's the better seat: the Thursday Night Football pre-game set or in Radio City covering the NFL Draft?
Eisen: “Being at Thursday Night Football is an honor and privilege to be at all of these stadiums and to meet all of the fans and see their passion on display. But I’m a native New Yorker so I grew up going to events and seeing movies at Radio City Music Hall. So going there and being able to host the draft there year after year after year is a dream come true.”
Q: Outside of quarterback, what is the toughest position to project from college to the NFL and why?
Eisen: “It has to be cornerback with edge pass rushers next. It just seems that guys who are great corners at one level, you can’t predict it. But obviously quarterback takes the cake.”
Q: What are your thoughts on DE Bruce Irvin's fit with the Seattle Seahawks' defense and what other rookies are you looking forward to watching this season?
Eisen: “I’m looking forward to seeing all of the defensive ends because there were a lot of options for a team like the Jets when they were on the clock. Seattle had the ultimate option; they had pretty much every person they could choose and they chose Bruce Irvin. The Jets had everyone they could choose after that and they chose Quinton Coples. And then a guy a lot of people thought that would wind up with the Jets, Chandler Jones, wound up with the Patriots. There are a lot of people who are in certain spots because of the domino effect of the draft. Melvin Ingram winding up in San Diego is another guy I’m going to watch. I’m going to watch all of these young pass rushers to see which one develops and how it works out.”
Q. How do you see Mike Shanahan using Robert Griffin III in the Washington Redskins offense this season?
Eisen: “I see RGIII being the number one option for Mike Shanahan and I see them doing pretty well with him.”
Q: The 49ers had one of the top defenses last season. Will they be the top defense this season? If not, which team will be?
Eisen: “The 49ers are my pick out of the NFC to go to the Super Bowl. That should answer your question.”
Q: Do you feel that Christian Ponder has what it takes to develop into an upper-echelon NFL quarterback?
Eisen: “Who’s to say? I’m a Michigan Wolverine so was Tom Brady drafted 199th overall. If you would have asked me that question back in 2000, I would have said, ‘Well he’s a sixth round pick and blah, blah, blah’ – who knows what a guy can do? It all depends in many ways on the weapons that surround him; also on the stability of the situation around him as well. You look at Peyton Manning. He has all of the ability in the world, clearly. He had the pedigree of his family, he has the head on his shoulders, but one of the things that certainly helped him progress is that he had a Hall of Fame wide receiver in Marvin Harrison on the edge outside of the numbers for him to throw to; he had a Hall of Fame running back his first season in Marshall Faulk, and then he had Edgerrin James after Marshall left; and then he had the same offensive coordinator for darn near a decade in Tom Moore. Hopefully Christian Ponder will have the same person in his ear, will have some weapons at his deposal, and he’ll have all of the ability and all of the chance to become a top tier quarterback.”
For more behind the scenes insights at Thursday Night Football games and access to your favorite NFL teams throughout the year, remember to follow @XFINITYSports on Twitter.